Christopher Columbus discovered America in the last years of the 15th century (12th of October 1492). It wasn’t until the 17th century that genuine American artworks permeated through the new-founded colonial society. The first settlers had no intention nor the means to cultivate fine arts amidst the early stages of conquering an unexplored territory.
Portraits marked the 17th and 18th centuries following European trends such as the Elizabethan design, the Dutch or English baroque style, the Bavarian model, etc. Portraits dominated the art scene from the Revolution to the Civil War.
The 19th century saw the development of the American school of landscape painting. The concept of luminism (the representation of light) was first introduced. Also, sculpture portraiture was rather prominent in this period.
Art in the post-Civil War finally took off thanks to unprecedented patronage from governmental and private sources. It was a period marked by French impressionism and romanticized urbanism. Commemorative sculptures were also on the rise.
The Twentieth Century gave way to artists and artisans to fully practice their craft and innovate. Not to mention that American museums were expanding and recognized as important cultural institutions for the young country. Even the dispute between naturalistic and idealistic techniques was nothing but a precursor to one of the most beautiful cultural patrimony. Moreover, photography was invented, and women and minorities were more included. The past century paved the way for revolutionary trends such as pop art, minimalism, feminist art, abstractionism, etc.
Here’s a shortlist of a few classic illustrations of American artwork:
American painter John Singleton Copley (1738-1815) depicts the rescue of an English boy (Brook Watson) from a shark attack in Havana, Cuba.
The 14-year-old English cabin boy on the Royal Consort decided to swim while the ship was docked. Copley portrays a climactic rescue just as the shark was moving for the third strike. Fortunately, a determined crewmate with a boat hook drove the animal away.
Grant Wood (1891-1942) was an American artist. Grant painted one of the most recognized artworks of the past century.
The image depicts a man in overalls and a suit jacket holding a pitchfork. By his side, his daughter wears a colonial-print apron. They both stand in front of a house designed in a gothic architectural style. Wood was inspired by a real home in Eldon, Iowa, and depicted “the kind of people [Wood] fancied should live in that house.”
Augusta Savage (1892-1962) was an African American woman sculptor, teacher, and civil rights activist associated with the Harlem Renaissance.
This painted plaster bust was an early creation of the artist and won her a scholarship in Europe. Gamin means “street urchin.” The figure’s wrinkled shirt and overall appearance represent poverty and social struggle. Due to the hardships of his life, his expression makes the kid look wiser than his years.
American photographer Dorothea Lange (1895-1965) took this iconic black-and-white photo while working for the U.S. Farm Security Administration (FSA) program during the Great Depression.
The children surround the mother in rag clothes, and her expression conveys sadness and worry. She’s a field worker on a farm where the pea crops were compromised by bad weather. Her image becomes a symbol for impoverished American families.
George Bellows (1882-1925) illustrates a dynamic, colorful, and crowded neighborhood of New York’s Lower East Side.
The painting represents the city’s population growth, mainly because of immigration. It exemplifies the industrialization of the new Americans on a sunny day.
In the light of the Pearl Harbor attack, Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975) decided to create several propaganda posters against the Axis Powers.
In this image, Jesus Christ is murdered once again by Germany, Italy, and Japan. A plane with the Iron Cross symbols on each wing dives and shoots Christ.
Tired of the city life, Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) decided to experiment with the American rural life. Her artistic interest culminated in New Mexico, where she eventually settled until her death.
Georgia focuses on a bleached skull with jagged edges in the middle of the desert. The image represents nature’s beauty and the relentless American spirit.
This print of Joseph Hirsch (1910-1981) represents racial equality in the Civil Rights Movement’s early years.
The two men of different ethnicity are sharing a meal during their work break. Their face profiles are portrayed at an equal level, indicating the sameness of the pair. Although the men are eating what appears to be a simple meal, the title “Banquet” celebrates their association.
African American artist Edmonia Lewis (1844-1907) carved in marble the lifeless body of the queen of Egypt, Cleopatra.
The magnificent sculpture is rather innovative because it portrays the moment after the venomous snake bit her. Most depictions focused on her mere contemplation of suicide. Also, in line with Neoclassic allegories, the two sphinx heads on either side of the throne represent the identical twins she bore with the Roman Empire’s general Marc Anthony.
Texan realist painter Graydon Parrish (born in 1970) has merged different aspects of the World Trade Center’s twin towers’ terroristic attack.
The large oil on canvas painting shows many metaphors relating to the 9/11 attack. Some allegories are more evident than the others. Generally, the picture presents the various tragic features of the attack, which killed almost 3,000 people.
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